Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
26 Miles to the Buffalo
Dad and stepmom are asleep when Beatriz (Monica Sanchez) drives up for her daughter. And off they go on a road trip, leaving Pennsylvania behind. Olivia wants to see a buffalo thunder across the snow out west, and Beatriz is happy to oblige. Olivia's father is Jewish and her mom is Cuban. Early in the play we get the sense that this is a problem for Olivia.
26 Miles by Quiara Algeria Hudes is the third production in Siembra, the Latino Theatre Festival, a collection of nine plays produced by 10 New Mexico theatre companies, all performed at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, running from September 2014 through May 2015. 26 Miles is produced by Camino Real Productions. With 26 Miles, Siembra has a strong batting average three plays in.
As mom and daughter move west, we begin to learn more about the family twists and turns that have weighed on all members. Beatriz lost custody of Olivia in part because of a devastating choice Olivia made in court when she was six. Dad's marriage is coming apart. He has no time for Olivia and his new wife shuns the girl. Meanwhile, Beatriz is suffering her own marital problems with her philandering partner Manuel (Miguel Martinez). As the play progresses, we realize the suicide attempt has a darker source than a school prank.
26 Miles cuts deeper than the light tone of Olivia's journal monologue musings would initially suggest. The play reaches into the bone of racial identity and family betrayal. None of the characters is innocent of inflicted damage, and none escapes unharmed. Love doesn't quite conquer all.
Playwright Hudes came off a run of acclaimed plays when she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Water by the Spoonful in 2011. Like Olivia, Hudes is the child of a Latina mother and a Jewish father. Unlike Olivia, she was raised by her mother and Puerto Rican stepfather. Hudes uses her family background to show how a racial divide can create wounds down at the identity level.
Linda Lopez McAlister, producer of 26 Miles and founder of Camino Real Productions, has joined with director Valli Marie Rivera to present a powerful play with a deceptively light and comedic surface. The production crew did a wonderful job of creating road scenes by using film to foster the illusion of hours-upon-hours in a car heading west.
Miller as Dad, and Martinez as Manuel do fine work, but their presence is limited. The real action takes place between Olivia and Beatriz. The play is well cast with Hughes (a UNM freshman studying theatre and English) and Sanchez (a veteran of Hispanic theatre from Albuquerque to California and back). They're both terrific, and each reveals a different vein of pain. For Beatriz, it's a lifetime of loss and disappointment. Olivia's pain at first seems like sappy "something's missing" teenage angst. As the play progresses, we see that her parents were absent as she started to slip and fall.
26 Miles will run through November 23, 2014, at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. Performances are at 7:30 Thursdays through Saturdays, and at 2:00 on Sundays. Tickets are $18, with a $3 discount for seniors and students. For more information or to reserve tickets, call the NHCC at 246-2262, or go to nationalhispaniccenter.org. All performances of Siembra will be held at the NHCC, at 701 4th St SW. Upcoming productions in 2015 include ¡Gaytino!, running January 23 and 24.